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WUSTL Gets $17M NCI Cancer Moonshot Grant to Study Cancer Genetics in Underserved Groups

NEW YORK – The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis on Friday said it has received a $17 million grant from the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Moonshot program to study the genetic underpinnings of colorectal cancer, multiple myeloma, and cholangiocarcinoma, with a special focus on improving the diversity of research participants.

The aim of the recently funded project underway at the Washington University Participant Engagement and Cancer Genomic Sequencing Center is to improve the inclusion of underrepresented groups in rare, understudied cancers. The colorectal cancer and multiple myeloma studies will focus specifically on improving inclusion of African Americans, while the study on cholangiocarcinoma is about improving understanding of the genomics of a rare bile duct cancer regardless of race.

WUSTL researchers will enroll 300 patients with each type of cancer, sequence these patients' genomes, and compare the data to the genome sequences from healthy individuals. Li Ding, director of computational biology for oncology and a professor of medicine and genetics at Washington University, will lead genome sequencing efforts within the project, and conduct single-cell, protein, and imaging analyses of patients' tumors. The findings, researchers hope, will advance knowledge of how these tumors form and how best to treat them.

Ryan Fields, a surgical oncologist at the university, will lead efforts to identify patients with the three cancer types who are interested in participating in research. A patient engagement advisory board, which includes members from the patient advocacy and rare disease community, will help with enrollment efforts and study design.

Bettina Drake, associate director of community outreach and engagement at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, will seek to understand why some patients agree to partake in research and others don't, as well as participants' concerns, values, and the types of information they want to learn by having their tumors sequenced. Researchers will use a web-based tool called Genomics Adviser to educate patients about genomics research and collect information on their preferences.

"When we look at cancer genomic studies, most of the participants have been white male patients, so a lot of the treatment decisions we make are based on that data, and it may not be applicable to women and people of color," said Fields, co-leader of the Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program at Siteman Cancer Center. "We're hoping this project can begin to address some of these disparities."